Ahmaud Arbery’s shooter admits he was not under any threat

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — The man who killed Ahmaud Arbery testified Thursday that Arbery did not speak, show a weapon or threaten him in any way before he raised his shotgun and pointed it at him.

Under cross-examination by the prosecution on his second day of testimony, Travis McMichael said he was “under the impression” that Arbery could be a threat because he was running straight at him and he had seen the 25-year-old Black man trying to get into the truck of a neighbor who had joined in a pursuit of Arbery.

“All he’s done is run away from you,” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said. “And you pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him.”

McMichael testified several times on Wednesday that Arbery had scared him in their first encounter, on Feb. 11, 2020, outside a home under construction, saying he feared Arbery was armed when he reached toward his waistband that day. Arbery did reach for his waistband but never showed a gun.

A cellphone video taken the day of the shooting, Feb. 23, 2020, replayed in court on Thursday, shows Arbery running around the back of McMichael’s pickup truck to the passenger side as McMichael, wielding a shotgun, moves to the front and the two come face to face. McMichael said Arbery then attacked him and tried to grab his weapon, and he shot him.

“He was on me,” McMichael said.

McMichael said he had approached Arbery because neighbors indicated something had happened down the road in his coastal Georgia neighborhood of Brunswick and he wanted to ask Arbery about it. Arbery was running in the neighborhood at the time. He said Arbery stopped, but then took off running when McMichael told him police were on the way.

Asked how many times he had previously pulled up behind strangers in the neighborhood to ask them what they were doing there, McMichael said never.

“You know that no one has to talk to anyone they don’t want to talk to, right?” Dunikoski said.

The prosecutor also pressed McMichael on why he didn’t include some details of his testimony Wednesday in his written statement to police, namely the part about his telling Arbery police were on the way.

McMichael said he was “under stress, nervous, scared” at the time of his police interview and “probably being choppy.”

“What were you nervous about?” Dunikoski asked.

“I just killed a man,” McMichael responded. “I had blood on myself. It was the most traumatic event of my life.”

“You were nervous because you thought you were going to jail, right?” Dunikoski asked.

“No. I gave them a statement,” McMichael said.

On Wednesday, McMichael testified that Arbery forced him to make a split-second “life-or-death” decision by attacking him and grabbing his shotgun. His remarks marked the first time any of the three white men charged with murder in Arbery’s death has spoken publicly about the killing.

Prosecutors contend there was no justification for McMichael and his father to arm themselves and chase Arbery when he ran past their Georgia home.

Testimony resumed Thursday as well over 100 pastors and hundreds of others gathered outside the Glynn County courthouse before a scheduled rally led by the Rev. Al Sharpton was about to begin. Sharpton announced the rally after a defense attorney intensified frustrations in Brunswick when he said he didn’t want “any more Black pastors” sitting in the courtroom with Arbery’s family.

Many of the pastors carried signs that said “Black pastors matter.” Some wore buttons with Arbery’s picture and the hashtag they are using for the case, “#JusticeForAhmaud.”

A vendor sold T-shirts under a tent, while under another, a woman offered water and snacks and asked people to put donations in a pickle jar.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson once again joined Arbery’s family in the courtroom on Thursday.

Arbery’s killing deepened a national outcry over racial injustice after cellphone video of his death leaked online.

McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after he ran past their home from the house under construction. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck and recorded the video.

The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery was a burglar because security cameras had recorded him several times in the unfinished house on their street.

Prosecutors say the men chased Arbery for five minutes and used their trucks to prevent him from fleeing their neighborhood before Travis McMichael shot him. They say there’s no evidence that Arbery — who had enrolled at a technical college to study to become an electrician like his uncles — had committed any crimes.

Bryan attorney Kevin Gough once again made a motion before the jury was brought in for the judge to keep prominent Black pastors like Jackson and Sharpton out of the courtroom. Judge Timothy Walmsley declined to take it up again.

“The court is not going to address the matter,” Walmsley said, noting he’d already rejected the same motion twice. He added: “The court’s position is already in the record.”

Gough first asked the judge last week to remove Sharpton from the court, saying the civil rights activist was trying to influence the jury, which is disproportionately white. The judge refused, and later called Gough’s remarks “reprehensible.”

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